Fat Talk vs. Dumb Talk: The Implications of Women’s Self-Criticism on Men’s Perceptions of Romantic Relationships

Published: 8 February 2021| Version 2 | DOI: 10.17632/tk88v4tf8p.2
Sidney Murray


The female gender norm of modesty manifests in women’s verbal self-criticism. Two dialogs women commonly employ are fat talk (FT), the verbal expression of body dissatisfaction, and disparagement of one’s own intelligence, which we have termed “Dumb Talk” (DT). FT research has revealed detrimental outcomes for speakers and listeners including eating pathology and sexual avoidance. DT, however, straddles achievement research, but has been largely neglected as a normative form of female communication. To our knowledge, we are the first to label it as a specific dialog type. The current study was the first attempt to elucidate how these dialogs would affect men’s perceptions of a woman who deployed them in a romantic context, and to compare the two dialogs to each other. FT was expected to be perceived as more harmful to romantic relationships than DT. Heterosexual male participants watched a video interview of a heterosexual couple, during which the female partner engaged in one of three dialogs: FT, DT, or dialog without self-criticism. Participants took the male partner’s perspective and reported perceptions of his relationship and sexual satisfaction and his partner’s interpersonal qualities, self-esteem, and body image. Participants perceived the female partner as less interpersonally attractive when she engaged in FT, but believed the male partner to be more sexually satisfied when she engaged in DT, relative to the other types of talk. The former finding suggests detrimental social impressions for women who FT in the eyes of men. The latter may suggest men’s adherence to traditional gender roles. Keywords: fat talk, dumb talk, self-berating dialogs, romantic relationship